Computer Writing and Permanence

Television started as a powerful community-building force. If you had a TV set, you would watch what was broadcast, discuss it among the family at home, and also with the wider context of friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues. If you encountered someone else with a TV set, the immediate assumption would be that that you had seen all or most of the same programmes, and could thus discuss the resulting issues from a base of shared understanding. Television was a “literate” activity in a similar way to books, newspapers and radio from earlier generations, and in the same way that usenet, the world wide web, and blogging would later become. —Frank CarverComputer Writing and Permanence (Frank Carver’s Weblog)

My mother kept scrapbooks when we were little kids. At one point, my older brother was fascinated by numbers, so my mother would clip out the one-page TV listing from the local paper, and paste it into the scrapbook. ABC, CBS, and NBC would be on the left, then the two independent Washington DC channels, 5 and 20. There were two dials on the old TV sets — in order to get to the VHF stations (with channel numbers above 19 or so), you had to set the main dial to “VHF” and then turn another dial. There was a weak PBS (public broadcasting station), probably from Baltimore, on channel 22, and then “our” PBS station on 26.

I remember one evening, as a youngster in the 70s, out of curiosity clicking all the way round the VHF dial. Click, click, click, click. There was something on channel 45 — another independent TV station. Like Channel 20, channel 45 had Star Trek reruns!

When my siblings and I watched the channel 45 version of Star Trek episode that we already knew backwards and forwards, sometimes — oh, joy of joys — we would catch a minute or two of Star Trek that we had never seen before. The scene in Trouble with Tribbles when Uhura and Chekov go shopping on Space Station K-7. An extra bit of character development in The Cloud Minders. The opening sequence of Shore Leave, when McCoy actually sees the white rabbit that he tells Kirk about just after the opening credits.

We figured out that “our” independent station had been cutting about two minutes of Star Trek to make room for commercials — mostly self-promotions. The “other” independent station had been doing the same thing, but they cut out a different two minutes.

In retrospect, I think cutting the white rabbit from “Shore Leave” was probably a good idea — Kirk thinks McCoy is pulling his leg. That not only helps define Kirk’s friendship with Bones, it also underscores Spock’s assessment of Kirk as not performing at top capacity because he is overworked (and in need of shore leave).

I am amazed at how much television is out there. I don’t think of it as “my” medium anymore. My kids go to bed late (around 10pm), and since we don’t get cable, if the TV does happen to be on, I’m always conscious of the language and the content one is likely to see on the few stations we do get. When Peter was two, he used to love watching Wheel of Fortune. When I came home from work, I would send my tired wife off to her regal retreat (the bathroom), and put on the Wheel while I made dinner. One night, just as the show as ending at 7pm, the very first thing that appeared after the closing credits was a network promotion for a late-night soap… one woman scowled at the other and shouted, “Goddamn you, you bitch!” and slapped her.

At that moment, my fatherly genes kicked in, and I stopped thinking of TV as a harmless entertainment. We own a lot of videotapes now — either provided by relatives with cable and/or better television reception (a whole tape of Zaboomafoo, another of Sesame Street, another of Teletubbies, etc.), or picked up on sales.

It really is something to be able to pop in “The Wizard of Oz” or “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang” whenver my kids want it. When I was a kid, the networks would show these shows once a year on a “movie of the week” special. Most Disney movies would be chopped up to fit into two episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney. <voice style=”Grumpy Old Man”>That’s the way it was, and we liked it!</voice>. The next day, everyone at school would be talking about it.

Broadcasting gets less broad with every new channel. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’ve seen recent studies that suggest that people who spend lots of time online take that time away from the television, not away from reading books